Managing a new or existing project can seem overwhelming. Control the chaos with these five best project management tools and techniques.
As with many things, there are many ways to approach the project management process. These five proven techniques cover many types of projects. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so each method brings something unique to your project.
5 Best Project Management Methods You Can Use:
What are project management techniques?
Project management techniques take raw project management skills and apply them to a system to make getting things done easier, achievable, and more realistic. Think of them as your roadmap or game plan. You have an end goal and project management techniques will get you there.
Like any map or strategy, there is always more than one way to do things. For this reason, there are several project planning tools that can be applied to different projects.
To determine which method is right for your project, you must first establish your project objective and variables. This can include end date, industry, budget, project schedule, number of teams, project lifecycle, etc. Once this is decided, you can evaluate different methodologies to see how well your existing variables fit into a method.
The best project management techniques to try
These five methods are diverse and can be applied to various circumstances, with some being better suited in some cases than others. No matter the specifications, however, these five project management techniques are used time and time again for a reason.
1. Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT)
The PERT technique is widely preferred because of its visualization component.
Charts are used to graphically represent the timeline of a project and provide at-a-glance understanding. The PERT method allows you to create a detailed plan and then visually track milestones and progress as a graph.
The PERT method is best suited to long-term projects, where a physical timeline is helpful, or larger projects that present unique challenges. These charts allow you to more easily assess time, resources, and plans as a project progresses.
How to Use a PERT Chart
PERT charts, since they are detailed and specific, have certain rules that you must follow to ensure accuracy.
- Pay attention to the visuals: The arrows indicate the flow of events, while the dotted lines represent activity happening outside of the main timeline on a separate path. The numbers and timing are stored inside each segment.
- Hourly: Create timelines and deadlines with specific vocabulary: “optimistic time” is the shortest possible time a project will take, while “pessimistic time” is the longest possible time. The “most likely time” estimates completion in the best-case scenario, while the “expected time” takes into account possible issues that may delay completion.
The Waterfall technique is an offshoot of classic, simple planning with the basics of project management, but takes it to a new level. A project is divided into sequential stages where each stage depends on the completion of a previous one. It’s linear, meaning it’s designed as “1, 2, then 3…” and doesn’t leave much room for unexpected changes.
This project management methodology is ideal for simple work breakdown structures or projects where you anticipate a few obstacles.
You plan the entire life cycle of a project, step by step, and follow it through to completion. Waterfall is similar to Agile in its linear nature, but differs in that it’s a complete blueprint, rather than a shorter time frame to review.
The Waterfall technique simplifies project planning and allows you to easily show progress, although it’s not the best choice for more complex projects or those with many outside variables.
How to use the waterfall
To implement the Waterfall project management technique, you need to put yourself in a “this then that” mindset. It’s a relatively simple practice, but can be best applied with a few simple steps.
- Good planning: Before applying steps to a project with Waterfall, carefully plan your project goals and requirements. Once the roles are assigned and the milestones are planned, it is much easier to break down the steps.
- Closing: Thanks to its software roots, waterfall planning requires the complete completion of one phase before moving on to the next. Once a milestone is complete, you can’t revise it, so make sure you’re clear on the scope of the project and any revisions are documented before moving forward.
Developed by a Toyota engineer to improve the manufacturing process, the Kanban project management technique is rooted in teamwork and the basic principles of project management. It’s a visual workflow, like PERT, but it’s set up as a series of task cards, unlike the graphical nature of PERT.
Kanban is an ideal project management technique for overall management, as it encourages continuous delivery and less stress for individual members. It emphasizes effective teamwork and is designed as a visual project board, perfect for plans that require many steps with many teammates.
How to use Kanban
You can effectively manage projects with Kanban with individual action items.
- Make a to-do list: The first requirement for tracking milestone completion is to determine each task that needs to be completed. Note each task on a separate card so that all project tasks are recorded.
- Break down the process: The Kanban flow is simple: To Do, Doing, and Done are the only three categories you need. Assign each task in the correct column and prioritize the steps to be performed, so that they are performed in sequential order.
4. Critical path
The critical path method has been a cornerstone of the project management plan since the 1940s. It involves first mapping out the most important tasks, then using them to estimate the total time needed for the project. Since an end date is influenced by each task, this project management methodology requires listing all necessary tasks, their duration, and any outside factors that may affect each stage.
This concept allows you to determine the “critical path” in a few simple steps. First, you determine the longest span of related activities and use that to project how long the project will take to complete.
How to use the critical path
The critical path is a fairly simple project management technique, but it should always be executed to exacting standards.
- Define scope: Before you start implementing the critical path, you should define all the tasks that need to be done for a project to be completed. Then, from this list, identify which ones depend on the others being completed first.
- Accept multiple paths: You can have more than one critical path in a project. Some activities may not be dependent on others in a critical path, and instead fall outside of the main plan, but they are still relevant to track and complete.
This project management technique sounds more intense than it is. Despite its outright name, it emphasizes planning flexibility, openness, and collaboration. Extreme re-emphasizes the human element and the potential for change over rigid methods or stages, making it ideal for larger, more complex projects, especially when there are many outside factors and uncertainties.
How to use Extreme
Before you dive into extreme project management, there are a few things you need to solidify first.
- Programming the cycles: Because the emphasis is on being fast-paced and open to change, you should plan your work in short cycles.
- Monitoring: At the end of each cycle, you should schedule time to check in, assess condition, and adjust if necessary.
Should project management software be used for these techniques?
Often a project is just too complex to handle on your own. This is where project management software can be a blessing, depending on the needs of your job.
You may need project management software for these techniques if:
- Your project has many tasks and teammates: Visualization software can be useful if you use a project management technique such as kanban and need to see multiple action steps and contributors to a project. Software such as Asana is a great option not only for visualizing individual actions, but also for “putting the team as well as the project manager first,” according to The Ascent’s project management expert, Nicholas Morpus.
- You anticipate external influences: The best-laid plans are easier to achieve when you have everything under control. So if factors beyond your control can influence your project, it can help you keep up with the whirlwind.
- You manage several projects: A project can be a lot to keep track of, but if you’re leading several, software can help you stay on top of each project.
You can opt out of the software for these project management techniques if:
- Your project is simple: If you have a project that fits easily into a short and simple waterfall-like method, the software may be overkill.
- Your team is small: If you don’t have multiple people to track, you might not need software to keep tabs on people or projects.
Choose the right project management method
Throughout your career, you will surely have several different projects to manage. Mastering a few of these techniques means you’ll be able to adapt and handle any challenge.